An American in Paris part 3: Discovering the Arrondissements

FIGO's President, Dr Jeanne Conry, lives in Paris, France, six months of every year. An American in Paris is a special blog series from Dr Conry that explores the highlights of Paris as a destination for the FIGO 2023 World Congress. The third blog of the series provides an overview of Dr Conry’s top recommendations for which Arrondissements to visit and stay in.

American in Paris - Part 3

Where will I stay in Paris? What is an Arrondissement? These are some of the most frequently asked questions from all of you coming to Paris in October.

We are fortunate to have many hotel rooms very close to the Paris Convention Centre, and the Congress website will direct you to those choices. Of course, many search engines will assist with choices, and many of you have points in vacation or hotel systems. I am going to provide an American in Paris look at where you might stay – by the Arrondissement – or regions of Paris.

Introduction to the left and right banks

Think of this as a spiral that circles the river Seine, better yet it has been described as an escargot—a snail shape with the river passing through Paris. I say a spiral because as one counts the number of the Arrondissement, 1-2-3-4 are on the Right Bank, cross the Seine to Arrondissements 5-6-7, then cross the Seine once more to 8-9-10-11-12 and the spiral crosses the Seine again to 13-14-15 (where the Paris Convention Centre is located) then crosses the Seine one last time to 16-17-18-19-20.  As one can see, the higher numbers are further from the Seine and further from the heart or centre of Paris. 

arrondissements map

Paris is then divided by sites on the Left Bank of the Seine, Rive Gauche in French, which refers to the south side of the Seine river or the left side if you face West. You will find The Eiffel Tower, the Sorbonne, Luxembourg Gardens, the Latin Quarter, Pantheon and St Germain-des-Prés, and at the border, our Convention Centre. St Germain-des-Pres gave the Left Bank its cultural reputation and has wonderful hotels. The Rive Gauche has come to mean for some people: high style, avant-garde and intellectualism.

I live on the Right Bank—the Rive Droite. You will see people carrying bags that proclaim Rive Gauche and Rive Droite – as though that reflects who you are. It does not, but it has become a statement. The Rive Droit has the Champs-Élysées, the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, the Opera houses, fashion, architecture and shopping! It is the home of Le Marais, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place des Vosges and the Bastille.

The best way to visit Paris

Let me highlight the Arrondissements and point out first that for anyone staying on the Left Bank in Arrondissement 5-6-7, it is very easy to cross the Seine and be in the heart of all the tourist sites and museums. The Seine is beautiful and the bridges alone are worth the photos. I have stayed in 5-6-7 in small lovely hotels, fabulous shopping, easy access to museums and easy walks along the Seine. Likewise 1-2-3-4 provide easy walks along the Seine and to the museums, shopping and sightseeing.

Also, Paris Metro is easy, universal and inexpensive. Get a pass and take it everywhere if you do not want to walk.   It is very easy to stay in Paris centre (1-2-3-4-5-6) and go to the Convention Centre on the Metro. That way you have easy access to the best restaurants, a variety of accommodations, and all the tourist sites. Particularly if you are bringing family, I would encourage you to stay close to the Seine! Paris is a walking city. I have walked 10, even 20 miles, in a day. Wear comfortable shoes, carry an easy bag and you are set.  So let me give my tourist’s view of the Arrondissements. 

A tourist’s view of the Rive Droite

I would describe the 1st Arrondissement as Paris’ finest! You will find the Arc de Triomphe, Place Vendôme, Sainte-Chapelle, Palais Royal, Tuileries Gardens with the Louvre and Musée de l’Orangerie, shopping in the fabulous and newly renovated La Samaritaine and along the Champs-Elysées, a look at all of the embassies and some truly elegant hotels. Technically, Notre Dame is on the île de la Cité, on the island in the Seine, and not an Arrondissement, but it is reached easily from Left and Right Banks. The 2nd Arrondissement is considered a quiet area and best known for Place des Victoires, an equestrian monument to King Louis XIV.  

And now – my favourite: le Marais. This includes the 3rd and 4thArrondissements and has an incredible story.  It was originally a swamp, then the Knights Templar in 1240 built a church during the Crusades. The current beautiful city park and Carreau des Temples sit on the site of the original Monastery. The city’s most famous Jewish neighborhood is in the Marais along Rue des Rosiers, which also has some of the best shopping, the best falafels, and buildings that record the history. 

Le Marais is known for its trendy restaurants, fashion houses, “hip vibe” and its colorful LGBTQ+ community. It is considered one of the diverse and “happening” neighborhoods with many hotels and easy access to Metro.  You can walk along the Seine, head up any street and find great cafes and enjoy the ambience. I like to say it is only a 15-minute walk to anything. The Marais has an easy access via Metro to the Convention Centre, but it is a longer ride of about 30 to 40 minutes.

Discovering and staying in the Rive Gauche

We now are crossing the Seine to the Rive Gauche, the 5th, 6th and 7th Arrondissements, the Latin Quarter, St Germain-des-Pres and the Sorbonne.  There are many boutique hotels that provide easy access to the neighborhoods.  It is known for the student influence and intellectual effect of the Sorbonne, but within reach of the tourist regions, and is home to the Pantheon.  It is known for the Saint-Michel fountain featuring  Archangel Michael defeating Evil. Rue de la Huchette is picturesque and evokes medieval Paris.

Now I am going to skip over to another favourite Arrondissement, where I think a visitor to Paris and particularly our delegates for FIGO Paris 2023 going to the Convention Centre might stay.  This is the 14th Arrondissement, Montparnasse.  Much like the Marais, it is full of personality. Unlike the Marais, however, is just one or two Metro stops away from the Convention Centre.  Montparnasse has many cafes and hotels.  It is home to the Catacombs, an underground labyrinth of bones—an ossuary with the bones of over 2 million Parisians!  Because of health concerns with cemeteries, bones were transferred underground in the 1700s and 1800s. Prices for hotels vary widely, so early booking is recommended! 

Finally, the 18th Arrondissement has medieval charm and the lovely Sacré-Cœur looking down over all of Paris from the hilltop. Montmartre is known for its personality, the art, and the shopping.  It is a small town in a big city.  There is a darling train that I have never tried but looks wonderful. The little train of Montmartre is a well-known sight in the district and gently winds its way up the hill.  That means it’s a fun way to get around the hilliest part of the city.  The views from Montmartre make it one of the most special places to visit in all of Paris.

I hope I have enticed you a little bit with the variety of Paris, the tourist attractions and most importantly the ambience.  Do not over plan, because it is a city that is meant for wandering and exploring, allowing time in Cafes and walking along the Seine.  Please bring family, friends and colleagues!